Lessons in language: Remember my name (fame!)
Like many people, I wouldn’t mind my name being remembered by history. Who wouldn’t want to be, like Shakespeare or Herodotus, known and named centuries after their death?
But maybe not quite like other people, I’d rather like my contribution to history to be a new verb. Madeleine narrelled every Sunday. Or maybe a noun. Everybody appreciates a fine narrelle.
English vocabulary contains some terrific words that come from proper nouns. Many of these eponyms come from people’s names: sandwich, martinet, quisling, pavlova.
Even place names can become regular English words given enough time: the word doolally (meaning deranged or irrational) c0mes from the western Indian town of Deolali and dates from the 19th -20th century when British soldiers waited there before being mustered home. Between the boredom, the heat and (presumably) serious PTSD, many soldiers were hospitalised in the local sanatorium with mental health problems. Doolally isn’t used so often these days, but the word still pops up in early 20th century British fiction.
Back to people. After some research (at the superb Alpha Dictionary: Eponyms site) it seems that it’s a bit hit or miss whether people who are turned into regular nouns are actually remembered fondly.
I mean, the Earl of Sandwich might be perfectly happy to live on in the language as the inventor of the result of slapping a bit of cheese and pickle between two chunks of bread; Anna Pavlova might think it’s just fine to have her dancing career dismissed in favour of a sticky dessert made of egg whites, sugar, cream and fruit. Chances are that James Watt is perfectly thrilled to have given his name to a unit of power; and 18th Century physician Caspar Wistar might be crooning with delight that the good hearted botanist Thomas Nuttall named the wisteria vine in his honour.
I can’t help thinking, though, that Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling might have thought twice about his choices if he’d known his name would be adopted in the lexicon as a synonym for traitor. Notorious 16th century stickybeak Matthew Parker might have mended his ways if he’d known that ‘nosy parker’ entered the language just because of him.
There are other less-than-flattering contributions individuals have made to the language. US politician Elbridge Gerry gave us ‘gerrymander’, which is a dodgy way to draw up voting boundaries; sharp-tempered Jean Martinet gave us the name for a rigid disciplinarian.
So, it appears than unless I invent something cool (like a biro or a hansom cab) or discover an animal or a plant (like a guppy or a zinnia) or invent a delicious and convenient foodstuff (or make a friend who’ll name an invention, discovery or foodstuff after me) the chances of my name going down in history are pretty low. Unless I behave in a memorably appalling fashion, and then I can join Parker, Quisling and Gerry in the ranks of the linguistically vilified.
I’m not sure what narrelle would mean in a general lexicon anyway. A propensity to talk about vampires a lot? That writer really narrelles; doesn’t she read anything about living people? A measurement of the period between one book of a series and its sequel? It was a good narrelle between the fourth and fifth installments of the series. (Though that would surely be a carmody, measuring 13 years.)
What do you think, gentle readers? If narrelle were to enter the English language, what would it mean?
There’s a copy of Walking Shadows in it for the entry that makes me laugh the hardest. Entries close on Saturday 8 September 2012! Just write your answer in the comments.
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.